Sewel, William (DNB00)
|←Seward, William Wenman||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 51
SEWEL, WILLIAM (1654-1720), quaker historian, son of Jacob Williamson Sewel, a free citizen and surgeon of Amsterdam, was born there in 1654. His paternal grandfather, William Sewel, a Brownist of Kidderminster, emigrated from England to escape religious persecution, and married a native of Utrecht. His mother, Judith Zinspenning, daughter of a German papist, afterwards a baptist, was a woman of strong character. She joined the quakers in 1667, after hearing William Ames (d. 1662) [q. v.], became an eloquent minister, visited England in 1663, was author of 'A Serious Reproof to the Flemish Baptists,' 1660, a 'Book of Pro- verbs’ (translated into English by William Caton [q. v.], London, 1663), ‘An Epistle’ (Sewel, Hist. ii. 125–8), and other small books. She died at Amsterdam on 10 Sept. 1664, aged 34. Her husband predeceased her.
Sewel was brought up by an uncle. At eight he was fairly proficient in Latin (Crisp and his Correspondents, p. 59), but was soon apprenticed to a weaver, and pursued his study of languages in the intervals of throwing the shuttle. At fourteen he visited his mother's friends in England. Returning to Holland after a sojourn of ten months, he obtained work as a translator, contributed regularly to the ‘Amsterdam Courant’ and other papers, wrote verses, and conducted a periodical. In spite of an invitation from William Penn to become master of the quaker school opened at Bristol, Sewel remained in Amsterdam until his death on 13 March 1720. He was married, and had issue. A portrait, by Rademaker, engraved by De Later, is in the ‘Boekzaal der geleerde Werreld,’ 1705; another engraving, by J. C. Philipps, forms the frontispiece of both the first and second editions of his dictionary.
Sewel spent twenty-five years in preparing his principal work, ‘The History of the Rise, Increase, and Progress of the Christian People called Quakers.’ It was first published in Dutch, ‘Histori van de Opkompste, Aanwas en Voortgang der Christenen bekend by den naam van Quakers,’ Amsterdam, 1717, fol. (another edition, 1742). The English edition (London, 1722, fol.), dedicated to George I, although described by its author as ‘rudis indigestaque moles,’ is remarkable as the product of a writer who had only spent ten months in England. It was largely undertaken to correct the misrepresentations of ‘Historia Quakeriana’ (Amsterdam, 1695, 8vo; English translation, London, 1696, 8vo, by Gerard Croese, a German, to whom Sewel had himself given many letters and narratives from England). Sewel's work was based upon a mass of correspondence, George Fox's ‘Journal,’ and, for the public history, Clarendon's ‘Rebellion’ and Ludlow's ‘Memoirs.’ Its accuracy has never been impugned, and it remains a classical authority. The ‘History’ was reprinted, London, 1725, fol. 1795, 8vo, 2 vols. 1779–80, 1811, and 6th ed. 1834. American editions appeared at Philadelphia, 1728, fol. and 1832 (cf. Hildeburn, Issues of the Philadelphia Press, i. 92–3), Burlington, New Jersey, 1774; and New York, 1844, 2 vols. (with a life of the author). It was translated into German, ‘Die Geschichte von dem Ursprung,’ 1742, fol., and abridged for children, London, 1864, 16mo.
Sewel's other works are: 1. ‘A Large Dictionary of English-Dutch,’ 2 pts. Amsterdam, 1691, 4to; 5th ed. 1754; 6th, 1766. 2. ‘A Compendious Guide to the Low Dutch Language’ (English and Dutch), Amsterdam, 1700, 12mo; other editions, 1725, 1740, 1747, 1760–86. These two were reprinted together, 1708, 4to. It was reissued by S. H. Wilcocke, London, 1798, 8vo, who in pruning Sewel's ‘exuberant diffusiveness’ discards the illustrative phrases which are a great feature of his work. 3. ‘Oratio in Luxum’ (Latin and Dutch), 1715, 4to. Sewel edited the ‘Grammaire Hollandoise of Philippe la Grue,’ 1744, 3rd ed. 1763, 4th, 1785, and translated the following into Dutch from the English: Robert Boyle's ‘Disquisition about the final causes of Natural Things,’ 1688; Penn's ‘No Cross, no Crown,’ 1687, 12mo, and his ‘Good Advice to the Church of England,’ &c., 1687, 4to; Bishop Burnet's ‘Short History of the Reformation of the Church of England,’ 1690; Steven Crisp's ‘Way to the Kingdom of Heaven,’ 1695, 8vo; William Dampier's ‘New Voyage round the World,’ The Hague, 1698–1700 (Leyden, 1707, 1737), the rare and curious account of shipwreck, entitled ‘God's Protecting Providence,’ &c., Philadelphia, 1699 (2nd edit. London, 1700; 7th edit. 1790), of Jonathan Dickinson (d 1722). From the Latin: Basil Kennett's ‘Romæ Antiquæ Notitia,’ published in Seine's ‘Beschryving van Oud en Niew Rome,’ 1704, fol.; and the works of Josephus, 1722, fol. From French, David Martin's ‘Histoire du Vieux et du Nouveau Testament,’ 1700; and from the German, Gottfried Arnold's ‘Wahre Abbildung der ersten Christen,’ 1700, fol.; another edition, 1703. He also translated into Dutch, Matthew Prior's ‘Ode on King William's Arrival in Holland,’ 1695, 4to.[Sewel's Hist. of the Rise, &c., preface; Memoirs of J. Kendall, p. 162; Friends' Biographical Catalogue of Portraits, p. 599; Steven's Hist. of the Scottish Church, Rotterdam, p. 272; Wagenaar's Amsterdam, xi. 326; Chalmers's Biogr. Dict. xxvii. 361; Van der Aa's Biogr. Woordenboek, xvii. 635; Gent. Mag. July 1785, p. 504, where he is called Dr. Seveley, and June 1812, p. 531; Friends' Monthly Mag. ii. 145; British Friend, December 1860, p. 294; the present writer's Crisp and his Correspondents, pp. xi, xxxiii, 1, 5, 8, 26, 47, 59; Smith's Cat. of Friends' Books, ii. 560, 979; Story's Journal, p. 490; Delvenne's Biogr. du Royaume des Pays-Bas, iv. 405; Friends' Quarterly Mag. and Review, 1832, pp. 117–19, where letters from Sewel to John Penington are printed. The Meeting for Sufferings owns a bound quarto manuscript volume in Sewel's autograph containing copies of his letters in Latin to William Penn, Thomas Elwood, Theodore Eccleston, Bishop Gilbert Burnet, Gerard Croese, Josiah Martin, Christopher Meidel, and many other persons, the last dated August 1719.]